Who cares what I wear at school drop-off? Me

Author Alyssa Shelasky in a vintage jumpsuit from Consignment Brooklyn on September 14, 2022. (Photos: NYTimes)
“New York Woman” — three small words that tell a big story.

A story I hoped to embody but might never get the chance. The words were embroidered on a T-shirt I saw at Out of the Closet, a second-hand store in the Boerum Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn, last week. I opted not to buy it simply because I ran out of steam. Now, I regret everything.اضافة اعلان

Retracing my steps, I rummage through the rack. Someone else beat me to it. Probably another local mother. Maybe Maggie Gyllenhaal.

And so it goes, as I schlep up and down Atlantic Avenue in early September before my kids’ September 8 return date, looking for little gems to enhance my “drop-off outfits”, the clothes we wear when we take our kids to school. A tradition that is distinctly — though certainly not exclusively — New York.

Obviously, the art of the drop-off outfit is to look like you do not care about the drop-off outfit. But I am not ashamed to admit that I do put some consideration into the fashion of it all, especially during the tour-de-force that is the first two weeks of the school year. There are so many transitions to navigate, so many forms to be filled out, so many seaweed snacks to dispense.

Humera Baburi wearing Zara in Brooklyn Heights on September 14, 2022. 

For those of us who get excited by style, it cannot hurt to feel some sense of chic along the way. Of course, there are way more important things in parental life than metallic Tevas and Mansur Gavriel, but for me — with two young children in different schools, a partner who is often away, and a full-time job — if a stupid bougie, tie-dye sweatsuit is going to help me endure, then bring on the Aviator Nation. Also, I work from home, which is a wonderful thing since professionalism and I have issues.

My children go to public school but we live in Brooklyn Heights, where there are several private schools, many celebrity parents (Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Keri Russell, etc.) and swarms of families who can afford gorgeous wardrobes. Every morning I see a runway of Rachel Comey jumpsuits, Suzie Kondi puff sleeves, and Anine Bing basics.

For starters, I want my outsides to match my insides: struggle and attitude. The look needs to land somewhere between “My Kids Are My Life” and “Kill Me Now”. It needs to exude that I am a scrappy, unmarried, mildly unhinged mom who is constantly hustling and hitting the gas, but I have taste.

This translates to heavenly T-shirts, bulky sweatshirts, good ol’ mom jeans, and a rotation of leather jackets and trench coats that were once expensive. For this year’s drop-offs, I added checkered pants by MOTHER and a gray Champion sweatshirt that reads “MoMA”.

I also splurged on a black Zadig & Voltaire bag because it was aggressively studded. I agonized over a gold fanny pack from Rachel Comey, which cost $425, but in mom math that is one semester of hip-hop at Mark Morris, so I moved on. Instead, I got a much cheaper neon-yellow “belt bag” from Shinola.

Trust me, I get it. Most normal, happy, well-adjusted parents wear Old Navy, Everlane, or whatever is clean and available. Alison Ratner Mayer, a 42-year-old child therapist in Framingham, Massachusetts, told me: “I’m either wearing very typical work clothes, or if I’m not going to work, I wear whatever is acceptable to leave the house in and smells fresh.”

Even at my kids’ schools, it is not some “scene”; almost no one is looking. The vast majority of my mom friends and mothers at large are not thinking about this stuff. But some of us are. I was raised on tag sales and TJ Maxx, and the emphasis was always on great clothes.

My sister, Rachel Karasik, who is 42 and a small-business owner in Brooklyn, has a popular Poshmark closet, Hunt and Sage, with a large clientele of budget-conscious moms. When I asked her if the “drop-off outfit” is something her shoppers think about, she said: “Definitely. Especially in the fall. All parents are worried about first impressions — it’s human nature.”

I met one mom friend, 36-year-old TV producer Raquel Balsam, at drop-off years ago, and I befriended her exclusively because I liked her style. When I confessed this to her over the phone recently, she responded: “Really? It’s called, ‘What can I add to my pajamas that tells the world I’ve somewhat got my life together?’”

I have also noticed a few dads with drop-off swagger. I checked in with two of them about their approach.

Kenneth Ebie, 43, executive director of Black Entrepreneurs NYC and founder of Ebie Strategies, said his presentation is rooted in something deeper as a Black father: “I’m always aware that how I show up in the school community impacts how my kids are perceived and ultimately how they’re treated. So whatever I do, my look has got to be clean. Raggedy is never an option.”

On the other hand, 46-year-old photographer Joost Heijmenberg said: “Sorry, no. I do not have a drop-off style.” Alas.

As I continue to shop and thrift, how do I decide what makes the final cut? Easy. I imagine bumping into Ethan Hawke on the street, which does in fact happen sometimes. Then I ask myself if I would feel cool enough when our paths cross.

There is a woman in my building whose style is everything mine is not: truly effortless. Emy Consula, 39, a nursing student and mother of two, has a hip, grunge-y drop-off style that I can only describe as Kurt Cobain as a Brooklyn mom.

In the elevator, when I asked her what her fashion philosophy was, she looked at me like I had officially lost my mind.

“Something like Urban Outfitters meets Alexander Wang, right?” I asked, totally serious.

When Emy realized I was not joking, she indulged me. “It’s a capsule collection of chaotic, exhausted and who cares.”

Suffice to say: I found my New York Woman.

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